Local author shares journey of forgiveness in new   book

  • Steve Sadin

    For Sun-Times Media

    Aug. 5 10:10 a.m.

    Little did Karen Kaplan know that inviting 25 friends to her home to hear a spiritual advisor and psychotherapist would set her on the road to becoming an author.
    Kaplan, a longtime Deerfield resident who moved to Highland Park last year, will be signing copies of her new book, “Descendants of Rajgrod,” at 10 a.m. and 7 p.m. Aug. 14 at the Midtown Athletic Club in Bannockburn.
    The book describes how Kaplan came to grips with feelings of anger at her father, a Holocaust survivor who she says was abusive to his family. Learning how to forgive him led her to forgive others, bringing her personal peace.
    The pivotal moment came in 2008 when Kaplan invited a group of friends to her Deerfield home to hear Lea Chapin, a woman Kaplan described as a “therapist and spiritual teacher.”
    “She spoke on spirituality and healing,” Kaplan said. “She said I should work on healing my Jewish community and plant seeds of peace in your house. I looked at her and she said nothing. She asked me to stand up and lead a song of peace.”
    With that, Kaplan began singing a traditional Jewish peace melody in Hebrew. She also decided to start spending more time with Chapin.
    “We talked about the concept of forgiveness,” Kaplan said. “It’s important to learn to forgive. It was really important before my father passes.”
    He was 87 at the time.
    In her book, Kaplan tells the story of her father’s misdirected anger. His mother and two of his siblings were murdered on their farm in Poland in 1941 after the Nazi invasion. Rather than curse those responsible, he took out his rage on his wife and children, she said.
    Ari Kaplan, Karen’s father, survived in the forests of Poland until the war ended and then made his way to the United States.
    “I was the madel (Yiddish for girl),” Kaplan said. “I didn’t have a name.”
    Her mother and brothers were physically abused, although she was not, she said.
    “I would run in a bedroom and hide,” she explained. “My mother would not let him hit her little girl.”
    Ari Kaplan’s anger begot Karen Kaplan’s anger. She never took it out on her family but still needed to deal with it before she could heal, she said.
    “I kept my anger bottled up,” Kaplan said. “Later on when I was with my father I felt anger and rage flowing through me.”
    Chapin’s words proved prophetic. Kaplan needed time to work through her issues but was ready to confront the demons by the time her father was on his death bed two years ago.
    “I took a couple of years crying nonstop (at times),” Kaplan said. “I was mourning the loss of something I never had; sometime angry, sometimes sad.”
    After two years of working through those issues, Kaplan realized in July 2010 that she had little time left to speak to her father. It was time to go to Highland Park Hospital’s intensive care unit to say goodbye.
    “I felt compassion toward my father,” Kaplan said. “He was comatose. I held his hand and said ‘Daddy, I forgive you.’ With that his eyes popped open. I have no idea if he could hear me.”
    Kaplan had another journey in front of her. She felt the need to go to Poland, the land of her father’s birth, to tread the earth where his own seeds of anger were planted. At the site of the family farm where the murders took place, she cried again.
    “I mourned the loss of my grandmother and my father’s family,” Kaplan said.
    At that point, Kaplan did not know if she would have to give what she felt would be the hardest pardon of all.
    “If someone hurt my children that would be the ultimate test of forgiveness,” Kaplan said.
    The test came for her on March 19, 2013, when three men broke into Kaplan’s Deerfield home, bound her and two of her children and held them at gunpoint. The offenders have not yet been apprehended, as far as she knows.
    Kaplan passed the test. She was able to forgive the three men ­— but that does not mean she does not want to see apprehension and punishment.
    “Forgiveness gives me peace, not justice,” Kaplan said. “I still do want justice but I can’t dwell on that anymore.”

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    JANUARY 2015   Rotary Member of Highland Park            I just finished reading DESCENDANTS OF RAJGROD last night and I was moved as well as inspired by the message…. your story and your viewpoint are making me evaluate my own perspective and approach.  I come from a passionate Italian-American family with its own tendency ...more

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